Performativity, punk and politics

Yet again I found myself in the middle of a gig, when I should only be concentrating on the band, going ‘I need to write an essay’ and trying to remember all I can about performativity and Judith Butler. On thursday night I went to see Random Hand, Voodoo Glow Skulls and Leftöver Crack, which bought all my mixed feeling about performativity and watching punk bands together into one confusing issue.

Basically, I identify as feminist, anti-racist, pro-choice and queer, so the fact that Leftöver Crack are explicitly anti-sexist, racist and homophobic, anti- breeding and pro-choice has to be a plus point in thier favour, though the fact that they make amazing, interesting music is the real reason that I like them. However, I also sort of think of myself as a pacifist, and as liberal and vaguely leftist, but not as socialist or anarchist, and there is one issue that occurs in Leftöver Crack’s music, as well as that in other bands that I definatly don’t agree with, the extreme anti-police sentiment.

I’m sure for lots of people this wouldn’t be an issue, but not only can I not help analysing song lyrics, I also can’t help applying performativity to my actions, so, when I was in the pit singing along to Gang Control, ‘fuck the police, they’re gang control’, I was expressing violent anti-police feeling, whether I believed the words I was saying or not. It was an uncomfortable feeling, especially as I can’t deny the importance of that kind of communal expression of belief, because I totally teared up when the lead singer talked about hypocerasy in the music scene, and I meant every single word when I was singing along to Gay Rude Boys Unite. To an outisder I was passionatly singing along to two songs, they could not have known my mixed feelings, and if course it gets better, because performativity is all about the importance of repeated actions, and the number of times I have seen Sonic Boom Six and sung along to Piggy In the Middle, and so expressing, again, strong anti-police feelings that I don’t think I actually share, but fulfilling the conditions of the performative action, and I do believe that language changes things, word-acts can be as valid as physical acts.

This leaves me in an uncomfortable position, my love of the music of Leftöver Crack and Star Fucking Hipsters, and most of their beliefs, isn’t enough to outweigh my dislike of one branch of their expressions, as the rampant misogyny of Imperial Lesiure was. However, I don’t advocate the killing of police officers, in no way do I agree with that. I think this relates to the gap between the singer and the narrator of a song that I always end up writing about, perhaps I need to theorise some sort of parrallel gap for the audience of a song, but at the moment I can’t help but the very acts of singing and dancing along to a song validates it, and implicits to the world that you agree with the feeling expressed by it. This sort of theory about music seems to be shaping up to be my life’s work, I could at least write a dissertation for my MA on it, if not for a PHD, if I ever get as far as doing one.

Until then, there was one thing I noticed the morning after the gig (apart from the fact I really did appear to have scraped half the skin off my elbow and it was leaking yellow stuff), the tshirt I bought, the Gay Rude Boys Unite one, of course, advocates true unity, among others ‘gay, straight or trans’, I’ve never seen another band acknowledge the problem of transphobia, let alone use a gender-neautral pronoun for that matter, it appears that to hear other people really express believe in the opinions that I hold I need to venture further into what I always think of as ‘proper punk’, and be aware that more extreme beliefs in one area are likely to mean more exptreme beliefs in another area as well.

The Invasion of ‘That Guy’

I think perhaps I’m out of touch with the scene – I always thought it was really bad form to wear the tshirt of the band you’re going to see to their gig, and even worse to wear the tshirt of the band that you’re seeing and that you’ve only just bought. I know I’m not the only one, for instance there is this Nothing Nice to Say strip.

However, recently I’ve noticed people doing it more and more, when I saw Streetlight Manifesto there was a veritable sea of Streetlight tshirts, including lots of the new one for that tour, obviously bought at the gig. Now, yes, I do live in my many band tshirts, but I’d never wear one of the band I was going to see, it just makes you look really, really unoriginal.

In my opinion the way to do it is to wear a witty or related top – for example I wear my Bomb the Music Industry tshirt to see Streetlight, both awesome American ska-punk bands, or I wore my Ska-Gal and the Hands of Ra top to see The Meow Meows, who contain ex-members of Ska-Gal. Of course this too has its problems, as shown by this 21 Dead Monkeys comics. Or you avoid the whole situation by not wearing a band tshirt at all, which is normally where my Pokemon tshirt comes in.

Ok, so it’s not like smoking in the mosh pit (those were the days…), or touching people up while they’re crowd surfing, but I do think it is kind of lame. So, either this is proof that at 21 I’m out of touch with the scene, and old and past it, or I’m hugely elitist, or there are a lot of other people going to gigs and wondering what on earth is going on.

Streetlight Manifesto at ULU

I only saw Streetlight last pretty recently, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t very, very excited to be seeing them again, and in London as well, which had sold out last time they toured so I’d had to go to Portsmouth. ULU is a venue I really like, in Bloomsbury right next to lovely Senate House library, and it’s just nice inside. However, on going into the main hall I got ID’d, (and told by the security guy I look about 17, not cool when I’m nearly 22), and it seemed like they were making under-18’s go on the balcony upstairs because of the bars in the main hall, totally unfair because of course that would mean no dancing. It’d be so easy to have different stamps for people under 18 or something, most venues manage it without excluding people from the best part of the venue, not impressive. Also, the ULU’s website said Dan Potthast was supporting, so I made sure I was there on time to see him, and he wasn’t, which was a shame because he’s always so good.

The first band were Advantage, a six piece from the Midlands with ex-members of Grown At Home. They played pretty good, fast ska, but did have a tendancy to waffle between songs, I maintain the best way to get a crowd going is to just play good songs, banter is hard to do well. They were at their best when they played a roots-influenced song, it really impressed me, and then they played Blaggin’ It, one of my favourite Grown At Home songs, and it was just like old times, everyone dancing, I think a few people would have been happy for them to just carry on with Grown At Home songs, despite the reminder ‘that’s a different band’ after a request for How We Roll.

Second on were Crazy Arm, a punk band from Plymouth,a slightly odd choice for the bill, and while I don’t think they were actually a bad band they didn’t really get any reaction from the crowd at all, and they seemed a bit uncomfortable though their music was technically good. I’d be interested to see them in a more punk-oriented show, because I wasn’t really able to get a proper impression of them.

Next, among considerable excitement from the crowd, were The JB Conspiracy. Until now I’d seen them play maybe four or five times, but never really got it, just thought that they were ok, but I finally understood what all the excitement is about, they’re really, really good. They played a fast, solid set, large parts of the crowd were obviously dedicated fans, which is always nice to be among, and there was lots of dancing and shouting along. The only song I really knew was This Machine, the last song of course, but it was actually the earlier parts of the set that convinced me I need that album, and now I’m really looking forward to seeing them supporting Catch 22.

Streetlight Manifesto were obviously the reason most people were there, me included, and the calls of ‘fuck you, Catch 22!’ were pretty amusing, and a nice show of band loyalty, especially considering how soon  Catch 22 will also be touring in the UK.

To be honest bits of Streetlight’s set are a bit blurry, I ended up right in the middle, surrounded by big men twice my size, I even went in the circle pit, which is a rarity for me, so I have a lot more memories of dancing while smiling like a fool, shouting along, and somehow not falling over than what songs they actually played. It did seem a well put together mix of songs though, lots of songs off both albums, but a slightly slower set than usual, which was odd. This did mean they played A Moment of Silence though, followed of course by A Moment of Violence, which lived up to it’s name in a very fun way.

Other highlights were the usual mix of Point Counterpoint-Keasby Nights-Point Counterpoint, and Failing, Flailing, but the best bit by far was the encore, Tomas Kalnoky came back on stage alone and played Sick and Sad, into Somewhere in the Between, then was joined by the rest of the band for the normal version of the song, and it just worked perfectly. It’s the first time I’d seen them do that, and everyone singing along was so nice, a great way to end the gig.

All in all, a great night, and as it was the first gig I’d been to on my own for a very long time it couldn’t have been better, the crowd were friendly and Streetlight Manifesto and The JB Conspiracy were on top form, though it was a shame about no Dan Potthast. Even better, Streetlight announced they’ll be back in the UK in August, excellent news!

BTMI! at the Albert

btmi-flyer2On Friday night I went to see Bomb the Music Industry! at the Prince Albert in Brighton. I totally love BTMI!, but this is not a gig I thought I’d ever get to see, and I’d been looking forward to it for months, even uttering the words ‘nothing will stop me going to that gig, unless I literally cannot move’. So what happens? I get ill on saturday, go to the doctors finally on friday morning, I have tonsillitis and maybe glandular fever, one of the glands on my neck is so swollen it’s easily visible, my throat is half closed, I can’t talk properly, or eat hard food, swallowing is agony so I turn up at the gig full of every kind of medicine, I did make it though.

I really like the Prince Albert, the venue is upstairs, above the pub, which means for people that weren’t on antibiotics drinks downstairs first, then upstairs where I am on the guest list for the first ever time in nearly nine years of going to gigs, which was pretty good. A couple of acts had cancelled, so Three Summers Strong opened, and here I probably am a little biased, since my boyfriend is the drummer, but hopefully not that much, after all acoustic punk is not my area of expertise. For an opening band, especially with not many people arrived yet, they seemed to go down really well, and played a short but well put together set, with some nice catchy songs, and great stage presence, friends randomly coming on stage to sing along, and it’s always nice to see people who look like they’re having lots of fun on stage. To me there sounded kind of like an English Against Me!, but that could just be because that is more or less where my experience of folk punk begins and ends, but certainly they both share a lead singer with an awesome voice. All in all, I was very impressed,and everyone else seemed to be too.

Next up was Mike Scott, who used to be in Phinius Gage, a band I’ve seen an awful lot of times at shows around Brighton, so it was kind of like being 16 and going to at least one gig nearly every night, which was nice, especially as he played a couple of their songs. Acoustic music again, quite political, including ending the set with two songs about veganism, which he said would make him look more preachy than he is, and a cover of a Propaghandi song that I should know but don’t, but got a really good response, and I really need to properly listen to more stuff that isn’t just ska or psychobilly. It seemed like the sort of music that I would need to listen to lots of really appreciate, especially when I was feeling ill and wanted to be comforted rather than have to think, so I spent too much time discussing if he looked kind of like a young Elvis Costello, looking online it turns out yes, he does a bit.

Then, the reason I was there, BTMI! I felt really bad for Jeff, he’d had to miss the gig in London the night before because his plane got cancelled, then spent more of the support acts trying to program songs ready to play, and then got onstage where within the first song the sound broke a couple of times, including some nice feedback, but he held it together pretty well, and the audience, pretty big by now, still seemed very excited, I know I was. The set was amazing,I always think they sound like a bizarre, synthy wave of noise, punctuated with utterly beautiful moments, like some of the horn sections, and that’s what it was like seeing them live, similar to how they sound recorded but rougher in a way that really worked. For me the highlights were This Is A Singalong from the split EP with O Pioneers!!!, my introduction to BTMI!, and of course Side Projects Are Never Successful, with the whole audience singing along, and quite a few people dancing or jumping around, and me really wishing that I felt well enough to.My expectations of what a BTMI gig could be like were lived up to when a girl got onstage to sing, pretty impressively too, even when she forgot the words, by the end of the gig there were six of seven people onstage, with Jeff on the floor in the crowd singing I Don’t Love You Any More, along with everyone else, not so much audience interaction as a living up to the idea that everyone is a member of BTMI, and one of the nicest audiences that I’ve been in for a while.

Afterwards, as well as getting a limited edition of Get Warmer, but with all kinds of extra stuff on it too, and a nice hand stenciled cover, I went and got a tshirt stenciled as well, with my recent love of stenciling I’m especially loving the whole DIY ethic, but most of all I loved the friendliness as people were waiting to get stuff spraypainted, it kind of felt like hanging out with a large group of acquaintances, only with the addition of a pretty tshirt at the end. Now I just need to hope that BTMI come back soon, when I’m not ill and can properly appreciate the bizarre, amazing experience seeing them live is.